''Corvus'' is a cli-fi glimpse into a sombre future
By Harold Johnson, Thistledown, $19.95
What if the whole economy thing is just a sham? We’ve been told it’s the economy, stupid, but maybe we’re stupid to believe there is such a thing. What if It’s all just a bunch of incredibly rich people manipulating money around the globe, keeping the sucker middle and working classes running after consumer goods and this mirage called jobs while they amass Midas-like fortunes they and their children’s children can never spend?
The holy, blessed economy is just one of the core beliefs from the late 20th and early 21st century into which Harold Johnson jabs a pin in his latest novel, Corvus.
Johnson, a crown prosecutor in La Ronge, CANADA keeps alive his native Cree tradition of trapping and commercial fishing, and is a father and grandfather. Out of this lively mix he’s fashioned another of his dystopian novels about the life we’re heading for in this province, and around the world, because of the short-sighted decisions we’re making, and have already made, right now.
The future is his cli-fi novel not a happy place in La Ronge, a population hot spot and last refuge for the masses who have fled north, escaping the drought brought on by climate change and dead soil. The soil has been ruined by various chemicals dumped on it over the years to try and improve yields. Now that living organism is extinct across the prairies, and wars have been fought over water: Intra One and Two, between the Americas.
It’s 2084, a symbolic date to which Johnson takes care to draw our attention with a direct quotation from Orwell’s novel. He follows four main characters: George (haha!), a discontented crown prosecutor, Lenore, George’s colleague and a woman who doesn’t really know who she is or what she wants, Richard, a man who’s been in trouble with the law for attending a demonstration, and Katherine, a woman taken in by an ashram years ago and who has been pretty much hiding out there since.
George, after a setback at work, buys himself a status toy, an Organic Recreational Vehicle (ORV), this one a wearable, computer-human hybrid with the body of a raven. George can now swoop and dive all over La Ronge and one day, hubris being what it is, gets blown far off course by a terrific storm and lands in a hidden mountain valley far to the west, home to a secret community of First Nations people.
They treat him kindly, give him some tough life lessons, and send him on his way. Now he’s really discontented and looks upon the whole punishing judicial system with a wary eye. The law is there, as upwardly-mobile Lenore reminds him, to keep the status quo intact, the nasty poor people in their place, and people like her and George drinking good wine and hankering after a safe home on a cloud — a reality in 2084.
Meanwhile Richard, having had an affair with Lenore in one of her careless moments and now in love and living with Katherine, begins to see that hiding out on an ashram and retreating into silence is merely complicity with the proscriptive laws of the land; laws backed up by a corporate/police state.
Everyone’s life is now governed by their platform, a super cellphone that only those with jobs, bank accounts, and stable addresses can acquire and which integrates them into every aspect of their lives: security, employment, residence, GPS, the works. They amuse themselves with Ultimate Hockey (more violence), gyms, and consumer goods, and live in fear of crime, peer jealousy and chastisement, and of losing their jobs.
All these horrors about which Johnson writes are things we know now: climate change, the soil, excess nitrogen, the widening gap between the rich and poor, rampant consumerism as a drug for fear and a waning sense of responsibility, but he just lays it out in front of us in the form of a story, a way First Nations people have always used to teach.
As Isadore, a First Nations man tells George after the storm grounds him, “We’ve been telling you for centuries. You just won’t listen. You think you’re smarter than the Creator. . . . I can’t explain to you how the Earth and the Sky are related, how you and I are related, because you’re too smart to understand.” A few pages later Richard, thinking of leadership, decides, “what we have now aren’t leaders. They watch which direction the people are moving and run ahead and pretend they’re leading.” No wonder we’re in such a mess, and Johnson sees all the trouble well under way right here around us in 2015.
As in many speculative fiction and cli-fi novels, a little willing suspension of disbelief goes a long way.
How, for instance, in an era of satellites and GPS systems, to name a few, could a whole valley full of lush trees and fresh water go undetected by a world killing itself for those things?
And, in terms of gender politics, why in both couples is it the man who develops the insight and the woman who stays blind?
These are the usual carping questions that people ask when they read a novel, but those aside, Johnson’s done some solid thinking about a world killing itself with its intellect while it denies its heart and soul in favour of more luxury goods.
And, says a real raven that’s been with us through the novel, “Why couldn’t humans clean up after themselves?”
Hmmm. Sounds like a question posed in this newspaper just days ago about a mine up north.